The Rape of Nanking – Thoughts

This is perhaps the most depressing book I have ever read in my life.

A quick background.  The Japanese invade the city and do the worst possible things one human being could do to another.  In short,

– Babies torn out of their mothers and killed
– Daily rape and thrusting of bamboo poles into them
– Killing games – Line up the Chinese and bayonet them as fast as possible to see who can kill more in a limited amount of time
– And so on and so on.  Just think of the absolute worst and that is what happened.

I’ve been thinking about which way I want to take this post and have decided not to dive into the mentality of the Japanese or possible reasons why they became “Japanese Devils.”  Instead, I would like to relate to you the difficulty I have reconciling the Japanese/Japan I personally know with the mass murders of the Japanese Army in the past.  Further, it baffles me how little is known about this atrocity.

It should also be known that the author if this book, Iris Chang” in diving so deep into an event as horrible as this committed suicide.  She is known as “The woman who could not forget.”

For some reason, I think I can understand her.  I too try to put myself into different mindsets and am astounded how quickly we forget the terrible events of the past.  When I read her words I feel as though I’m actually there and a hatred for Japan starts to ignite.

This is where I come into conflict with myself.  I love Japan, the Japanese people and their culture.  When I read something like this it starts to turn all my opinions about Japan on its head.  It feels like an internal struggle with the emotions of hate and love tearing at each other.

As I read the book I think what an awful race of people the Japanese must be!  I then put the book down, tear myself from that time frame and quickly realize that the emotions I have just had cannot be correct.  I have family, friends and a life I’ll eventually return to in Japan.  I reason with myself that it must have just been an army that went out of control, that normal Japanese would also be outraged if they knew what happened there.   The hate subsides and then I see a picture like this.  (For more see War Pictures – Very awful)

The hate returns.  I have to tell you that this internal struggle is mentally draining.  I wish the Japanese would just apologize and the criminals all be thrown into the sea.  At least then I could feel that the country has atoned, moved on and perhaps have a fresh start.  But the Japanese have never apologized.  Many of the criminals went back to normal life and the leaders found positions in government.  The Emperor was never punished and his descendants remain on the throne.

We can see that this issue remains very troublesome even today.  If you read the news carefully you will see that the Japanese Prime Minister visits Yasukuni Shrine every year to pay homage to the Japanese war dead.  The Chinese protest but it is all blown over in the interest of commerce, the buying and selling of goods is more important than remembering the Chinese dead.

I then think about what we are taught in our own US school system.  We are constantly reminded about the Holocaust and it would seem there is a new movie every year just in case anyone had forgotten.  Yes, what happened to the Jews was horrible and should not be forgotten, but why is it we are so easy to forget all the other atrocities in the world?  Why do the Jewish people get all the attention?  There are horrible genocides everywhere but we rarely hear about those.

Returning to Japan, it would seem the criminals did very well for themselves. Just as one example, look at Mitsubishi.  They were born out of wartime Japan and making machines of destruction for the Japanese army.  Now, Americans drive their cars and ride their elevators.  (Side Note: BMW was also born out of wartime Germany – The symbol is a propeller going towards the sky – People think they are driving in luxury, little do they know they are riding in a Nazi mobile).

But, let me tell you this about Japan.  The Japanese actually are quite ashamed of what their army did in WWII.  In typical Japanese fashion, it is not in their culture to have a huge outpouring of grief, in fact they show little emotion anyway.  If you pay attention to Japanese culture they do not really like their national anthem “Kimigayo” and many refuse to sing it which always causes a stir when someone of any influence refuses.  They still do not call their Army an “Army” but instead “The Self Defense Forces.”  They still do not have an atomic bomb.

There is however a counter current in Japanese society, which all societies have in the extreme right.  These are people who drive around in black trucks called “Uyoku Dantai.” Very easy to spot, they are yelling out their loudspeakers and have Japanese flags on the side.  Best to stay away from these trucks if you are a foreigner.  But I must say they are just a small minority.

Their main problem is they are sick and tired of apologizing for Japan, think Japan can do no wrong and are tired of Japan being seen as a “weak” country.  Remind you of any other Right wing groups you know?  Every country has them.  They are people who do not know history and have no high level thinking skills.

But returning to normal Japanese, I feel they do have a lot of internal shame but as I mentioned it is not in their nature to show their feelings.  They also do not like being called out on it, encouraged to show some remorse, it makes them angry if you try to do so.  Further, it was not the current Japanese that did these terrible things.  It would be like holding all Mongolians responsible for Genghis Khan.

On a personal note, I have family there and upon meeting the grandmother she greeted me with a big smile and a bow on the ground!  Her husband was in the Japanese Army and I’ve tried (very very gently) to find out where he was stationed but that is a topic they will not talk about.  So here, we have a very sweet old lady bowing to the grandson of a former enemy of her husband.  If they had ever met, they would be trading bullets, not bows.

I cannot think of any other word to describe this but weird.

On a second personal note, when I lived in Vietnam I knew a wonderful young lady who looked just a little different.  I asked her about her heritage and she told me that her grandfather was a Japanese soldier.  She had been trying to get in touch with him through the embassy but to this day, Japan will not help and all her requests refused.  Her Grandfather probably does not want anything to do with her and to just forget that time period.

To me, this is incredibly sad.  It makes me extremely depressed to read about what human beings are capable of doing to each other.  It makes me further depressed to put myself in the mindset of a Japanese soldier thrown into war and wonder if I had been in the same situation, would I have an innate human compass that would rather see myself killed than participate?

Perhaps this last sentence is a bit crazy.  But if we think about it, it is very easy to condemn looking back in the past from the comfort of our armchairs.  If any one of us were born a Japanese Soldier, a Serb, A Nazi, A Hutu, whatever and it is all we knew, our entire community was killing others, is there a benevolent voice inside us to tell us what we are doing is wrong?  Is it inherent in the human condition or are we a product of our environment.  Do we need another to train us not to be savage monsters?

I hate reading books like this and coming to the conclusion that we as humans are shaped by our environment and if the environment was bad probably will turn out bad ourselves.  It saddens me that I believe a human left to his own devices with no society as just as equal a chance to become a monster as well as a saint.  I come to the conclusion that we are just slightly more developed apes.

I am also aghast that this is not the last time things like this will happen.  Wars will continue, leaders will find some reason or another to rip the intestines out of pregnant women, the killing will not stop.

This book has put me in a very foul mood.

By Mateo de Colón

Global Citizen! こんにちは!僕の名前はマットです. Es decir soy Mateo. Aussi, je m'appelle Mathieu. Likes: Languages, Cultures, Computers, History, being Alive! (^.^)/


  1. Shortly after the war both Mao and Chiang Kai-Shek turned down the need for Japanese apologies.
    Nonetheless, Japan has issued a number of apologies since the war:

    In the ’72 when the two countries established formal diplomatic relations, China renounced the need for war reparations.

    And not all Japanese PMs visit Yasukuni. Koizumi did go every year but Kan has refused to go:

  2. 1. I read that they both did turn down the need for apologies. This was to gain favor with Japan in order to make their side “more legitimate.” I doubt the people of Nanking appreciated this.

    2. Number of apologies – Looking at Wikipedia it seems you are correct. The author of the book made it seem as though apologies were very rare but Wikipedia shows otherwise.

    Some politicians still deny it including our favorite Shinatro Ishihara who said in 1990 “People say that the Japanese made a holocause there but that is not true. It is a story made up by the Chinese. It has tarnished the image of Japan, it is a lie.”

    But I think we both know what kind of guy Ishihara is, his opinions are absurd.

    3. Yaukuni – Ever since Koizumi no Japanese PM has held on to the job long enough for me to even pay attention. The last I saw Yasukuni being a huge deal was during his tenure. It hasn’t caught my eye in the news since then.

    I’m satisfied with the apologies but still think a lot of reparations in terms of money should be in order, then let history be history. Also, I’m amazed how we do not learn about this in the West. The author touches on it briefly but in short, I think it is because for most of history, most of Americans were of European descent. Thus much more attention is payed to what happens over there. I for one knew nothing about Asia until I actually went to live there.

  3. Whatever the leaders of China were thinking when they turned down the need for apologies, I think we can be certain that the victims of Nanjing were not part of it.
    The problem is that no person living today will be able to make a convincing apology to the Chinese. Plenty of people inside China also have an interest in continuing to roast Japan slowly over this fire so I doubt that this will be resolved within the next few decades.

    And yes, I know what kind of guy Ishihara is. Along with what is probably a minority of Chinese… Sadly…

    Anyway, it’s not like China has not benefited from Japanese foreign aid and loans. Foreign aid was an entire industry in its own right for Japan from the 60’s onward. The Chinese are just very unlikely to get an apology that they are willing to accept.

  4. I’m going to take the position that it is possible for the Japanese government and the Japanese people to apologize in such a way that will satisfy the Chinese people (let’s leave the PRC government out of this, for now). What is most painful is that while there are some (actually very few direct apologies made in reference to specific massacres, such as Nanjing) apologies given by a handful of Japanese officials, there are still (too) many Japanese officials who continue to deny evidence of mass atrocities committed in specific locations as well as specific charges such as mass rape of thousands of civilians in China, Korea, and the Philippines. Denial from important officials, denial of specific charges in Japanese school text books, and denial of the specific sites where the worst atrocities occurred are what essentially nullifies any given apologies. Just imagine that a group of people break into your house and killed your family. How satisfying will it be if only one member of the group apologizes while the rest of the group not only refuse to apologize, but they denied that the event ever occurred?

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